"These Palestinians point out that in return for this 'bribe,' Abbas was forced to drop his two other preconditions for resuming the peace talks: a full cessation of settlement construction and Israeli acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
"There are also Palestinians who see the release of about 100 prisoners as a 'minor' achievement for Abbas, especially in comparison to Hamas's success in securing the release of more than 1000 inmates in return for kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Schalit.
"'Israel is not doing anyone a favor by releasing 100 prisoners,' said a Fatah official in Ramallah. 'While we welcome this decision, we do not see how it could help the peace process, particularly in light of the fact that there are more than 5,000 Palestinians who are still in prison."
"We welcome this decision 14 years later."
In other words, it's no big deal that Israel has done this now, as this is no more than Israel was obligated to 14 long years ago.
But, not surprisingly, Erekat distorted the truth.
The Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum did speak of Israeli release of pre-Oslo "prisoners." But nowhere does it say ALL prisoners, and that is of critical importance in terms of diplomatic language. In fact, two releases of 200 and 150 prisoners were specified, after which a joint committee was assigned the task of "recommending further lists of names."
See for yourself: http://www.knesset.gov.il/process/docs/sharm_eng.htm
And in the islamweb site listed above, it says that "Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian government spokesman, told Al Jazeera that...Israel 'had released some Palestinian prisoners as part of the Oslo Accords [Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum was part of Oslo], but kept 104.'"
So it seems to me that Israel fulfilled its obligation under the terms of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. But what about the PA? (A silly question, I know.)
Actually, the Memorandum says, "The two Sides reaffirm their understanding that the negotiations on the Permanent Status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338..."
Fascinating. SC Resolution 242 of 1967 (which is echoed by 338) calls for "Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict..." Here too, it does not say "from ALL territories." And it acknowledged that "every State in the area' had a "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." (Emphasis added)
Those who drafted this resolution were firm in their understanding that asking Israel to withdraw from all territories would not have provided her with secure boundaries.
You can see information on this, here:
And yet the PA now carries on without end about the need for Israel to return to the '67 line.
I would add here that Security Council Resolution 242 does not refer to Palestinians or a Palestinian State. On the other side of the boundary [border], to be determined by negotiations, was Jordan.
What is more, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum refers only to negotiations on "Permanent Status," with nary a word about establishing a Palestinian state.
Yesterday leaders of the PLO and Fatah were scheduled to meet in Ramallah in order to "assess the outcome" of the talks that had been held in Washington and discuss "preparations" for the next round of talks. Jamal Muhaissen, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, was cited by Khaled Abu Toameh as saying "the Palestinians continue to stick to their demand that the negotiations with Israel be conducted on the basis of the pre-'67 lines."
Those talks never materialized yesterday, however. Abbas cancelled the meeting without explanation and took himself to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for a surprise visit; he will be holding talks with King Abdullah.
Sources in Ramallah say the meeting might take place after the Muslim feast of Ad al-Fitr, which ends on Sunday. There was speculation that Abbas might have called off the meeting "because of growing opposition in the PLO and Fatah to his decision to resume the peace talks without a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution."
Any predictions as to what will or won't happen on August 14?
On Sunday, the Cabinet voted a new list of 600 communities and cities that have a national priority -- which entitles them to enhanced state benefits. Among the communities listed were 90 "settlements," 15 of them new to the list, including four communities that have just been legalized during the past year. They are considered eligible for priority consideration for security reasons. Other communities are on the list because of socio-economic status or location on the periphery of the country.
Along with the new "settlements" added to the list, were some kibbutzim and Arab towns.
Protests were voiced by members of left-central parties because of the inclusion of the new "settlements," even though their status on the list does not include additional infrastructure or building benefits. That is, this list does not promote the expansion of "settlements" or the development of new ones, but rather, provides assistance to the residents. Needless to say, this did not sit well with the PA.
But hurray that the government is paying attention to communities beyond the Green Line.
We are beginning, perhaps, to see a crystallization of the situation, as it dawns on people, finally, that Obama is never, ever going to hit Iran.
Remember how he said that Assad would cross a red line if he used gas on the rebels? You see how the US has taken action since then. Well, Obama has also said, repeatedly, that it was US policy to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear nation. But you can take this statement with the same grain of salt. There will be no action to make sure it doesn't happen. Not US action, at any rate.
A letter, signed by 76 Senators, was sent to Obama last Friday, and publicized on Monday.
Authored by Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, the letter urges Obama to be tough with Iran:
"Mr. President, we urge you to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process.
"We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously...
"Iran has used negotiations in the past to stall for time, and in any event, (supreme leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei is the ultimate decision-maker for Iran's nuclear program.
The message from the White House on Sunday: Iran will find the United States a "willing partner" if Rohani is prepared for serious talks. And, of course, once he "convinces" himself that Rohani is serious, Obama will want to cut back sanctions because this is what the new Iranian president requests. You know, "good faith gestures" and all that.
Does he, could he, possibly believe that Rohani is to be taken at face value? Or is Obama, at his heart of hearts, such a coward (this is a distinct possibility) that he will not do confrontation no matter what? Or (and I ask this with full seriousness), is he content to play the game -- knowing that with Iran negotiations are a game -- and allow a nuclear Iran to come into being?
Whatever the answer (or answers) here, woe unto America and unto the world that Barack Obama is president of the United States.
The 76 Senators who signed the letter to the president are not fooled by Rohani -- who has said Iran would not abandon its nuclear program, which it sustains "on the basis of international law...We will not do away with the right of the nation."
What does it mean that he is "prepared to enter serious negotiations," if he has already declared his intent to continue Iran's nuclear development?
Neither is Israeli leadership fooled by this man.
Last week Yuval Steinitz, Minister of International Relations, spoke in an interview about the fact that Rohani "cheated" the West a decade ago:
"He is cunning, he’s charming and he will smile all the way to the bomb unless the Western world will do everything necessary to stop him."
See Dore Gold on Rohani, with regard to what Steinitz is referring to (emphasis added):
"...It is often forgotten that Rohani was national security adviser under President Khatami when Iran concealed its vast nuclear program from the West. It was in 2003 that the Shahab-3 missile, which Iran hopes to arm with a nuclear warhead, became operational in the Iranian armed forces. In other words, Rohani was part of a regime that hid its most sensitive nuclear facilities, which have served as the foundation of its drive for nuclear weapons...
"In 2004, Rohani actually spoke about his diplomatic strategy as a nuclear negotiator. He explained that he was trying to keep the Iranian nuclear file out of the hands of the United Nations Security Council...
"It was in that speech that he made his famous statement that 'while we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan...'
"Iran's president said that pressure won't work. Not true! The only thing that has worked in the last two decades is
pressure. And the only thing that will work now is increased pressure. I have said that before and I'll say it again, because that's important to understand. You relent on the pressure, they will go all the way. You should sustain the pressure."
And so, the question of the day is, Now What? The US is not going to act, and Iran is about to cross the red line in terms of nuclear development. Back in May, Netanyahu warned that sanctions had not stopped Iran from continuing its nuclear enrichment program. And he said, "In parallel, it [Iran] is working on a heavy-water reactor to build a plutonium-based bomb."
He called dealing with this the biggest challenge of our time," but it seems no one was paying attention.
Now the Wall Street Journal has come forward with a major report on this issue -- citing US, UN and EU officials -- that, according to the JPost, states:
"The Arak heavy water nuclear reactor in Iran will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs' worth of weapons grade plutonium a year and will be capable of producing the material by next summer..."
"Regarding the capabilities of the Arak reactor, the report quoted an official based at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters who said that it 'really crept up on us.'"
You weren't listening!
The bad news, then, is that Iran may be capable of producing a nuclear weapon in less than a year.
But there is a silver lining here. For the Arak heavy water reactor is above ground.
I've written several times about the increasing difficulty for Israel in attacking Iran's nuclear facilities because so much has been placed underground. Only the 30,000 pound bunker buster bombs possessed by the US would be able to do the full job now. But Obama will neither use those bombs against Iran nor give them to Israel to use.
Israel would be able to hit some of the underground facilities -- and now, the above ground reactor, being utilized by Iran to speed things up, as well.
There is a reasonable speculation that this may factor into Netanyahu's decision on what to do, and when to do it:
"The report cited current and former US officials who said an Israeli strike on Arak would likely have to take place prior to Iran introducing nuclear materials into the facility, in order to prevent an enormous environmental disaster."
Netanyahu has spoken for so long, and with such clear vision, about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. And yet, even as we've inched closer to the deadline, he has not given the word to act. There is a widespread and very reasonable assumption that Obama is the reason.
When push comes to shove, it may well be that whether or not Netanyahu finally acts is dependent not upon his assessment as to whether he should do so, but rather upon his ability to tell Obama where to get off. His spine -- Heaven help us -- must be strong enough to defy Obama's warnings and machinations. Perhaps in this instance, because he truly understands the ultimate consequences, he will stand up as he must. Many is the time that he has said an Iran with nuclear weapons capability would constitute an "existential threat" to Israel.
A senior Israeli official (unnamed) told Israel Radio yesterday that, "Israel is capable of carrying out a unilateral strike against Iran's nuclear facilities without the aid of the United States," although such an attack would be less effective than a US attack.
And last, for now, on the subject, from an Army Radio interview of Amos Yadlin, head of IDF Intelligence from 2006 to 2010.
Credit: thinkprogress "In 2012, the [Americans'] red light was as red as it can get, the brightest red. But the music I'm hearing lately from Washington says, 'If this is truly an overriding Israeli security interest, and you think you want to strike,' then the light hasn't changed to green, I think, bit it's definitely yellow."
Reports Haviv Rettig Gur in the Times of Israel, "Yadlin is thought to be close to parts of the US defense establishment. He served as Israel’s military attache in Washington from 2004 to 2006, and was a Kay Fellow in Israeli national security at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 2011."
"In 2012 the [Americans'] red light was as red as it can get, the brightest red. But the music I’m hearing lately from Washington says, ‘If this is truly an overriding Israeli security interest, and you think you want to strike,’ then the light hasn’t changed to green, I think, but it’s definitely yellow."
Could Yadlin be right? A yellow light would be much easier for Netanyahu to buck than a bright red one. And in the end we would be doing a huge favor for Obama.
With all of the above, I think it's important to end with a piece of good news designed to bring a smile:
The Ramat Gan Safari Park (near Tel Aviv) has a new-born Asian elephant. Here it is, with its mother La Belle and grandmother La Petite, just a few hours after its birth last Friday. The baby, as yet unnamed, is thought to be female.
Mazel tov, mazel tov.